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Opening New Windows on Yoko Ono's Work


Why, precisely, Yoko Ono would have decided to emblazon 73 shop windows on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills with her well-known "instruction" pieces of the 1960s (instructions for the creation of a work of art, event, film and/or dance) is a mystery. Less mysterious--unfortunately--is the way, at least in this context, the work falls utterly and completely flat.

Take "Blood Piece," which reads, "Use your blood to paint. Keep painting until you faint. Keep painting until you die"; or "Travel Piece," which says, "Make a key. Find a lock that fits. If you find it, burn the house that is attached to it." Printed in cheery yellow on the front windows of stores like Tiffany & Co., Polo/Ralph Lauren and Giorgio Armani, such would-be (perhaps even once-were) anarchic sentiments are denuded of any power or poetry.

All but drowned out by this sovereign shopping district's screaming glut of signage (which ranges from familiar designer logos to "Going Out of Business" banners to windows imprinted with long texts extolling, "Zegna Style: The High Performance Suit"), Ono's Fluxus-themed propositions at best evoke a nostalgic allure--as in the window of Gucci, where they perfectly suit Tom Ford's retro fashions--and, at worst, suggest a capitulation to the commercial.

A related exhibition at Shoshana Wayne Gallery provides a better showcase for the artist's many talents. "Blue Room" (1966-1996) is characteristically charming--equal parts fey and spiritual. Tiny, holographic texts wrap around the walls reading, "This room slowly evaporates every day" or "This room moves at the same speed of the clouds."

Outside, the "Wishing Tree" (1996) comes equipped with pieces of paper, pens and an invitation to pin a wish to the tree. Among those were two that were particularly telling: "I wish for my father's health" and "I hope I get the Sam Francis."

Also included in the show are a series of small, biomorphic abstractions--entangled forms resembling eyeballs, breasts and bowling pins--rendered in a precise, pointillist style.

Seductive in spite of their pictorial illogic--or maybe even because of it--these black-and-white drawings are also rather traditional. In the context of this artist's distinctly untraditional career, they are most unusual and fresh.

* "73 Windows on Rodeo Drive," Rodeo Drive between Santa Monica Boulevard and Wilshire Boulevard, Beverly Hills, (310) 858-6100, and Shoshana Wayne Gallery, 2525 Michigan Ave., B-1, Santa Monica, (310) 453-7535, through May 18. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

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